Momijigari – Making the most of Fall in Kanazawa
After another long, humid summer, we are now entering what is personally my favorite time of year to be in Japan. As the temperature and humidity drop back down to tolerable levels, the millions of maple trees throughout the country begin their dramatic change.
Over the next few weeks, they will shift from their verdant greens to a simply stunning blend of reds, golds and oranges. And with the high concentration of maples in some places, particularly the countryside, it gives the effect that parks, towns and even entire hillsides, are ablaze with color.
Kanazawa has some great places to enjoy a spot of momijigari (autumn leaf viewing), but to really make the most of it, I would recommend traveling just a little way out of the city, and these are some of my suggestions. The peak time for experiencing the changing of the leaves in Kanazawa is usually for a couple of weeks starting in mid-November.
Yamanaka Onsen is a small hot-spring town about an hour south of Kanazawa by train and bus that, while popular with Japanese tourists, is still a little less well known among international tourists. It is a beautiful spot all year round and particularly so in Autumn.
Perhaps its greatest attraction (other than the many lovely traditional inns and onsen), is the Kakusenkei Gorge. This is a spectacular area on the east side of the town, running parallel with the Daishoji River and is renowned as one of the best places to experience the changing of the seasons.
The Kurotani and Kohrogi Bridges are perhaps some of the most dramatic spots to see Japanese maples in all their autumn glory and make a perfect backdrop for amateur and professional photographers alike.
The Oku-Yamanaka area, just outside of central Yamanaka, is also a great place to experience Autumn. With plenty of outdoor activities and hiking trails through some of the most amazing scenery, I really cannot recommend Yamanaka Onsen highly enough.
As one of Japan's most famous gardens, Kenroku-en is an obvious choice to experience the changing of the leaves but that does not make it less worthy.
It is at this time that Yukizuri takes place in which hundreds of ropes are tied in cone shapes, to the famous Karasaki pine trees in order to protect them from the heavy winter snow that is now just around the corner.
Additionally, Kenroku-en is taken over by illumination festival in which the garden is lit up over the course of several nights. The lights help to accentuate the colour of the leaves and even the Yukizuri ropes are lit, making for a striking reflection in the already beautiful Kasumi Pond.
While a Kenroku-en is almost certainly on the itinerary for anyone visiting Kanazawa, if you do happen to be here in mid to late November, it is worth both a daytime and a nighttime visit.
Daijoji Temple is one of the hidden gems of Kanazawa. It's nestled on the slopes of Mount Nodayama in the south of the city and its public precincts contain an abundance of maples. Being away from the main tourist routes means that you can appreciate their beauty in the peace and tranquility that was intended. The quiet gardens and impressive Black Gate and Red Gate offer a great opportunity to capture the very essence of momijigari.
Daijoji is a Zen temple where the monks tirelessly practice meditation and asceticism, but they also hold seminars and meditation sessions that are open to the public. If zen meditation is something that really interests you, Short stays at the temple for up to 3 nights; living, working and learning with the monks, are also possible.
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